In Falling (Avid Reader, July.), former flight attendant Newman imagines a new kind of hijacking threat.
Was there an event that inspired this plotline?
The concept came to me at 35,000 feet. I was working a red-eye and I was looking out at the passengers. It was dark. They were asleep. And for the first time, I realized passengers put their lives in the hands of pilots they do not know anything about. Passengers have no idea what stresses or pressures that pilot is under. So with that much power and responsibility, how vulnerable does that make a commercial airline pilot? It scared me. And I couldn’t shake the thought. A few days later, on a different trip, I just asked a pilot: “What would you do if your family was kidnapped and you were told that if you didn’t crash the plane, they would be killed?” And the look on his face terrified me. He was so scared. I knew he didn’t have an answer. And I knew I had the makings of my first novel.
What’s misunderstood most about the role of flight attendants?
That flight attendants are on board for service. Drinks and food. But that’s not our job. Service is something we provide, but our primary role is safety. Flight attendants go through a rigorous safety training program, and an annual recurrent training, because our main roles are safety, security, and medical care. If we were on board solely for service, the airlines would have installed vending machines on planes long ago.
A lot of agents turned this down before you found one. Was there a time when you contemplated giving up?
Of course. After every rejection the desire to give up would resurface. I’d register it and allow it, and then I’d scratch that agent’s name off the list, pick myself up, and move on. From the first to the 41st, they were all hard. I kept telling myself that I only needed one yes and it would come.
Was there anything that required you to stretch reality?
The opening line of the book is “When the shoe dropped into her lap the foot was still in it.” Which, based on the research I’d done on explosive decompressions, seemed possible... but maybe not probable. But I went with it because it was a great line. Cut to a couple of weeks ago when I was reading an academic book on aircraft accident investigations and there was a picture—I swear—of a shoe, with the foot still in it. I shrieked with joy, which, yes, I realize is a bizarre reaction to seeing a severed foot.